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Jobs and AI - Carla Echevarria from the Google Assistant team shares her view on the much debated topic

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Ahead of her seminar at IP EXPO Europe, we caught up with Carla Echevarria, UX Design Lead for Google Assistant, to find out how she got started in AI and get her view on the common challenges AI faces. 

What inspired your decision to work in AI?
I've been fortunate to have worked on several technologies that enable people in constrained circumstances to complete crucial tasks. At Facebook, I was one of the inventors of Safety Check, which enables people who have been affected by a natural disaster or catastrophic event to communicate with friends and family. At MakerBot, I worked on solutions for 3D printing to create low-cost, custom-fitted prosthetics and medical devices, for patients and doctors who required faster and more cost-effective solutions, especially in emerging markets where traditional solutions are inaccessible.

Similarly, AI has the potential to be extremely valuable to people who are unable to access or use traditional technology. The Google Assistant is already being used to perform physical tasks for users whose mobility is limited, and provide valuable information where literacy is limited. I am motivated to work in AI because it has the power to amplify and augment human capabilities, and enable every human being to achieve their potential.

Do you think concern around AI and robotics replacing human jobs is justified?
AI is merely a technology, like the printing press or steam engine. And the truth is, AI is a misleading misnomer for current technologies. The form of "AI" that is actually in use today (in image recognition, natural language processing, speech-to-text, credit card fraud detection, etc) is machine learning, which is much closer to regression analysis, than it is to actual artificial intelligence.

Facebook can recognize a friend's face, Alexa can order your groceries, Google can tell you what time you should leave to make your next appointment on time ... but what they're doing is statistical modeling, not volitional thinking.

The ability to make true judgments, to detect patterns that can't be obtained by mathematical calculations, will always be a uniquely human trait. For example: Google engineers were able to use data from many great photographers to train its AI-enabled Clips camera to compose beautiful photos. But while the AI can piece together the characteristics of a great composition -- good lighting, depth of field, the rule of thirds -- but it can never arrive at a true conception of beauty.

For this reason, jobs that require human qualities -- judgement, ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, storytelling -- in other words, nearly every type of job -- will never be replaced by AIs.

On the contrary, new jobs will be created as the AI industry expands. AIs must be designed, engineered, trained, calibrated, and maintained. Jobs that don't exist today will be created to fill these needs.

What perception changes do you think we’ll see towards AI in the coming years?
As AI engineering becomes democratized with platforms such as Google's Cloud AI, which provides off-the-shelf machine learning services, including pre-trained models, increasingly more people will be able to create their own AI tools without signification engineering expertise or expense. In turn, an understanding of AI technology will become the norm -- and the mysterious quality that it currently holds will fade, and people will come to regard it as just another human tool, to be wielded for human purposes.

Make sure you don't miss Carla at IP EXPO Europe 2018, register now at www.ipexpoeurope.com 

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